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Travel Influencers: Rethinking Relationships Post-COVID-19

March 2020 seems so far in the past, yet it was just a few weeks ago that digital travel influencers – like many in the rest of the world – were out of a job and looking for new work. Now, as the travel industry faces new challenges on the road to recovery, it would be understandable to think that these scrappy digital natives will get back to scrounging for likes and engagement like before. The truth, however, is that working relationships with digital travel influencers have forever changed.

Well, changed may not be the right word. What the pandemic has done is not change the actual nature of some influencer collaborations, but it has accelerated the evolution that we were bound to see eventually.

Before coronavirus, there was always a bit of debate among destinations and DMOs on how to engage influencers. It seemed, generally, that DMOs could invite influencers with the lure of a hotel room, or maybe a free meal, and let them work their magic. Influencers would pay their own way and seek various trade-outs if they were lucky. It resembled, in a lot of ways, the relationships that destinations culled with journalists over the years.

There’s a difference, however, because journalists are paid by a publication. Influencers are self-starters who rely on their networks and sporadic paychecks to make ends meet.

By early 2020, coronavirus hit the world and every travel content creator – influencers included – were out of a job. Instead of sitting around and waiting, digital influencers pivoted, and hard, proving that they could apply the trade to other sectors. Development Counsellors International’s (DCI) original research highlights how many digital travel influencers have been changing their tactics. In all, 88% lost projects, but most began working for brands to sell other products or to offer online classes.

The pandemic demonstrated that influencers will not simply work for free. What time has shown them is that their partnerships have dissolved but they were able to pivot and find partnerships that didn’t require them to do the one thing they love: travel. Instead, many realized they can stay home and still find ways to earn money. Why risk travel, especially during a pandemic?

Now, as the summer heats up and some destinations worldwide are beginning to open again, it’s time to think about these influencers. Having felt abandoned by the travel industry and facing certain risk when boarding a plane, influencers need more guarantees and firmer relationships. DCI found that 75% are ready to travel soon after restrictions are lifted, but COVID-19 has ended partnerships that simply achieve clicks or likes. Instead, there are three different ways DMOs should be engaging with this group, and immediately.

  1. Ambassador partnerships – DMOs should engage with digital travel influencers to develop long-term relationships, stretching across a fiscal year. By creating an ambassador partnership, a destination can work with an influencer over twelve months to provide multiple trips and to be the voice of a destination. Ambassadors can also act as spokespeople for a destination, attending conferences and appearing in advertising opportunities. They will act as audience-facing content creators that are already beloved by audiences, so there’s plenty of synergy to be had.
  2. Creative content – Instead of just renting their audiences, destinations can engage with digital influencers for creative content used across all websites and social networks. Influencers are pure creative talent and can produce the photographs, videos, and blog content that a destination needs to push out to its existing audiences. In the early years of influencing, these digital natives seemed amateurish compared to professional photographers or videographers, but their quality is now unmatched, and readily adaptable to the social platforms that audiences use.
  3. Sales conduits – An incredibly effective way to collaborate with digital influencers is by allowing them to get involved more actively with bookings and commissions. By having skin in the game and receiving financial incentives from pushing bookings, digital influencers can take a more active role in promoting your destination. Several DMOs have already tried this out, but for those just getting into the influencer game, know now that this is the future.

No matter which route your destination chooses, keep in mind that, from now on, you’re not just engaging with influencers for the likes and comments. You are hiring professional talent. As such, contracts and relationships need to be formal, calculated, and beneficial to both parties. If you’re thinking of inviting a digital travel influencer to town without any clear financial incentive, be warned. Our research tells a very different story.

To learn more, check out DCI’s free study, A View from Digital Influencers In the Era of COVID-19. If you have any questions about how to enhance your digital travel influencer efforts, get in touch with Daniella Middleton at [email protected].

Written By

Daniella Middleton

Daniella Middleton is a Senior Vice President in the Tourism Practice, leading strategy and directing digital marketing strategies, influencer marketing partnerships, and MICE / business events marketing and sales.

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